On Tuesday, Kelly Osbourne stopped by The View and, in an attempt to make a point about Donald Trump’s racism, made a racist remark herself. Yes, it’s that cut-and-dried: inadvertent or otherwise, Osbourne’s words were bigoted.
As the panel of ladies discussed Trump’s extreme and prejudiced views on immigration, Osbourne chided, “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilet, Donald Trump?”
Osbourne’s attempts at backtracking did little good. “In the sense that… you know what I mean? But I’m saying that in LA, they always… ”
When cohost Rosie Perez interrupted Osbourne to joint out the problematic logic with the statement, Osbourne insisted her intentions were pure, saying, “Come on! I would never mean it like that! I’m not part of this argument.”
Only, Kelly, you are. That much was made all the more evident by the apology she soon after issued on Facebook.
In the passionate rebuttal, Osbourne stated she always takes responsibility for her actions. However, she said, “In this particular case I will take responsibility for my poor choice of words but I will not apologize for being a racist as I am NOT.”
She goes on to confess she “whole-hearted f***ed up” and that she doesn’t want to “bullshit anyone with lame excuses.” Yet, nearly in the same breath, she brings Perez into the narrative, pointing out that Osbourne’s spirited co-anchor stopped her mid-sentence.
“I should have known better as I was on The View and it was live. I’ve learned a very valuable lesson,” she says, wrapping it up with, “It is my hope that this situation will open up a conversation about immigration and the Latin community as a whole. By the way I clean my own f***ing toilets.”
So, let me preface this by saying I think Osbourne is incredibly sweet and typically endearing. She also lives under constant public scrutiny, and that certainly can’t be easy. However, Osbourne could have commanded so much more respect in my eyes if she had addressed the true teachable moment to come from this gaffe and not just the lesson she learned — to watch what she says on TV.
Because the hard reality of the situation is that what Kelly Osbourne said about the Latino community was offensive. It was racist. The fact that Osbourne refused to admit the comment was racist under the veil of not being a racist speaks directly to the heart of conflict surrounding conversations about race today.
Many terms have been coined for Osbourne’s “not a racist” logic.
Like, for instance, covert racism, which race relations expert Nadra Kareem Nittle explored in a recent op-ed. “Unfortunately, many who hear the word ‘racism’ often conjure up images of bigotry at its most extreme,” she explained. “In reality, most members of minority groups in the U.S. will likely never encounter a Klansman or be the casualty of a lynch mob. Instead, people of color in the U.S. are much more likely to be the victims of subtle racism, also known as everyday racism or covert racism.”
Or white fragility, which Dr. Robin DiAngelo uses to define the pushback white people often exhibit when encountering challenges in racially charged discussions.
According to the Diversity Awareness Partnership, one of the steps to better understand race and racism is to be OK with making mistakes — but using those mistakes to “actively create communal spaces for dialogue wherein mistakes are valued as steps toward learning.”
To that end, Osbourne failed. While she was on the right track in admitting she messed up, she refused to pinpoint the root of the problem. Not simply that she made a poor choice of words, but that those words were representative of a much larger problem that we cannot possibly hope to remedy if we can’t even bring ourselves to address it.
We all make mistakes. We all speak out of turn sometimes. I certainly don’t begrudge Osbourne that humanity. Rather, I would have loved to see her use that humanity to illustrate that it is possible to learn from one’s mistakes and use those mistakes to help others identify something found sitting just below the surface in many people’s nature.
Recently, I witnessed a beautiful example of the kind of apology I wish had come from Osbourne.
After posting an article on racism that certain friends and family deemed unfair or inappropriate, my friend Brittani Williams offered up genuine and humbling words of regret for subsequently deleting the original post.
“I say this because I need to be transparent through this journey. I need people to see that I am struggling through this too,” Williams started, including with her comments a screen shot of the original post alongside some of the impassioned feedback.
“Yes, I did make a mistake,” she continued in the lengthy post. “And for that I wholeheartedly apologize… This is still a learning process and I am learning as I go. Part of the learning isn’t always comfortable. And it often requires admitting your wrongs, righting them, and moving forward.”
And that, I believe, is the kind of mea culpa truly capable of starting a meaningful dialogue.